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12th December 2021

A vaccine to eliminate aged cells

Japanese researchers have demonstrated a vaccine to remove senescent cells in mice. These so-called "zombie cells" are a key driver behind the aging process.

 

normal vs senescent cell

Normal vs senescent cells (stained blue). Credit: Katherine Aird

 

Senescence is a term given to cells that have stopped dividing but continue to accumulate in our bodies as we get older. These toxic, malfunctioning cells are believed to play a major role in aging and cause damage to neighbouring cells. They have been implicated in a wide range of diseases such as dementia, diabetes, heart conditions and illnesses affecting the kidney, liver, and lungs, as well as osteoporosis and general frailty.

A team of scientists from Juntendo University, Tokyo, identified a protein called GPNBM found within senescent cells in humans and mice. They then created a peptide vaccine based on an amino acid that constitutes the protein. The vaccine enables the body to create antibodies that attach themselves to senescent cells, which are removed by white blood cells that adhere to the antibodies.

Mice given the vaccine developed signs of frailty associated with old age at a slower rate compared to unvaccinated mice. The researchers observed mice with arterial stiffening and noted that many accumulated senescent cells disappeared from the affected areas. Crucially, the team reports that their new vaccine has fewer negative side effects than previous anti-senescent cell treatments, while also lasting longer.

Their research appears this week in the peer-reviewed journal, Nature Aging.

"We can expect that [the vaccine] will be applied to the treatment of arterial stiffening, diabetes and other aging-related diseases," said Tohru Minamino, PhD, from the Department of Cardiovascular Biology and Medicine.

 

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